It’s funny how the most innocent events in life can go so terribly wrong.  A recent walk with my 11-year-old son in a nearby park turned into one of those parenting moments where I am sure universal forces aligned to trip me up, and trip me up they did.

We were strolling along the banks of the river, reminiscing about past trips to the park when he was little; sweet memories of swing sets and twirling slides. That’s when a bright purple wrapper caught my attention. As I bent to pick it up, I jumped back; it was a condom wrapper. Seeing my reaction, my son said, “Oh I see those all the time in parks.” What? Gross.

“Why are there condom wrappers in a park?” he asked innocently. Sigh.

And so began another awkward but necessary conversation about sex, where the lines between truth and lies would be carefully blurred to not overwhelm my son – or me, for that matter. I accept that hearing about sex from me will cause emotional scarring on the only one of my children who could potentially impregnate another human being. Now that is a sobering thought.

I wish you could have heard the voices in my head do battle in that moment. One suggested I be straightforward with the facts. Sex is natural; it is not dirty or wrong when it is safe and consensual (and over the age of 30). Another inside voice suggested I take this opportunity to scare the living daylights out of him by insisting sex is wrong, and it causes aggressive rashes that make it impossible to play hockey or video games. Ever.

Indecisively, I merged these thoughts into what I hoped was a balanced ad lib presentation on the facts of “parking” in a gentle way intended to guarantee he will never go parking in my car with anyone, ever (let me hold on to that delusion, okay?).

I had flashbacks to summer nights with a certain boy who had a pickup truck. He was sweet, but not terribly bright. It didn’t matter because the eerie sound of my mother’s warnings would come out of nowhere to interfere with our best-laid plans.  If you’ve ever met my mother, you know the wrath she would unravel on me if I were ever caught in a compromising position with a boy in a vehicle – or anywhere else. 

So, as a point of reference for my son I used the excuse, um, I mean the example “my friends were doing it” when I explained the ramifications of parking. I started with the obvious:  condoms mean the couple parking is at least being safe, because sex can kill you. Dead.

Okay, that is not what I really said. We talked about personal safety and respect for sexual partners. We covered abstinence and why hormonal urges are not the same as love, but are equally as consuming. We talked consequences and openness, even when it’s hard to talk to someone.

I don’t believe in lying to my kids, nor do I live in denial about their futures, but I will do my best to always keep them talking to me, whatever they decide.

We found three more wrappers on our way home. Boy, I miss the days when parks were about swings and jungle gyms and the hardest question I had to answer was “why?” to everything.

But I didn’t have the answers then either.


Kelly Waterhouse